Americans divided over need to be vaccinated

Apparently the Delta variation of Covid-19 has found Idaho.  In three weeks the state’s 7-day average of new cases has jumped from 69  to 94 to 146 (July 16).

This surge, which the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has  called the “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” could be worse for Idaho. Though only five states have rates of fully vaccinated residents lower than Idaho’s 36.78%, Idaho’s new cases per 100,000 residents are below the national average. Is it because we have a younger population?  Or perhaps we’re better at social distancing or staying home when we’re sick?

Or is it simply that the Delta variant showed up here later and the numbers will be worse soon?

One baffling question is how did vaccines become so divisive. Just four decades ago we reached the critical mass of smallpox vaccinations needed to eradicate the disease worldwide. In 1952, polio’s worst year in the U.S., 3,145 people died and 21,269 were left with some paralysis. Thousands of kids across the country joined long lines in school gyms to get polio shots.

 You might think, then, with over 600,000 Covid-19 deaths in 18 months, Americans would be fighting to see everyone vaccinated. But a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 47% of Republicans and 6% of Democrats say they are unlikely to get vaccinated.

Yet, many Republican leaders support the vaccine.

Former President Trump is proud of this administration’s role in speeding development of a vaccine. Even though he’d had Covid, he got shots in January.

In March Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed he’d been vaccinated and urged others to do so. According to Business Insider, 46 of the 50 Republican U.S. Senators say they’ve been vaccinated. In the U.S. House, however, 95 Republicans have disclosed they’ve had shots, but most won’t say.

Rupert Murdock, founder of FOX News, got his shot in December and urged others to do so. Even now, with Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham disparaging the vaccines, the network plays a 30-second spot featuring four FOX hosts and anchors encouraging everyone to get their shots.

And Gov. Brad Little gave Idaho state employees four hours off to get vaccinated.

Although a great many state officials have taken stands against vaccination–Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is selling shirts saying, “Don’t Fauci My Florida”–the anti-vax movement seems to be coming from the grassroots and being seized upon by political opportunists.

Perhaps Republicans are more apt to avoid vaccination because they fear needles or really believe Covid-19 won’t strike them, but it’s obvious many are actively opposed to vaccines.

The anti-vax movement has been around as long as the science. In the 19th century, opponents of the smallpox vaccine claimed that “the vaccine didn’t work, the vaccine would make you sick…, and mandatory vaccinations were akin to medical despotism.”

Television, plus the introduction of five major vaccines, led to a growing anti-vax movement in the 1980s.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy recently blamed anti-fax propaganda on social media delivering misinformation in a  “highly emotional” way that is an “urgent threat.” The Center for Countering Digital Hate claims that “65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media have come from just 12 people.”

But that’s hardly a explanation. People choose what they want to view and to believe. The anti-vax movement seems strong mainly with people who distrust the government and believe that thousands of citizens across the nation have conspired in election fraud.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no quick cure for that.

Idaho’s housing problem could soon be worse

Well, the Wall Street Journal featured an article about Idaho last week that wasn’t about our wildfires, high grass prices, or low vaccination rate.  

It was about a Ketchum worker making $60,000 a year who’d been living in his SUV for six weeks because he couldn’t find an affordable place to live. According to the WSJ, the problem was the result of “a rush of new residents during the Covid-19 pandemic, growing demand for workers during the economic boom that has followed, and a shortage of affordable homes that was years in the making.” (That “rush of new residents” is most likely remote workers and early retirees.) 

Yeah, tell us about it. 

ForRent.com lists 15 rental addresses–apartments and houses–available in Caldwell. Only five rent for $1500 a month or less. A person–or a couple–making $24 an hour might have five units to choose from, unless someone else in this city of 55,000 rented them first.

Nampa and Boise each have about 22 rentals listed with 9 under $1500.  (Portland has six units under $1500.)

And buying is even more out of reach. The Idaho Dept. of Labor says the cost of Idaho homes has increased 73% in the last five years, while wages increased 14%. 

Some renters I’ve talked with lately are having a rough time. 

Some report rent increases of $300 per month. Idaho law not only allows increases of any amount, but also prevents local government units from making such regulations (SECTION 55-307, IDAHO CODE).

Some report payments for background checks totalling nearly $1000. Idaho has no limit on what landlords may charge and, as far as I can find, no requirement that the report actually be applied for. That is, a landlord with one unit for rent could collect a $50 fee from dozens of applicants and then test only two or three. 

And this year, members of the House killed a bill which would have required that rental fees be revealed in rental contracts (SB1088).. Can you imagine if fees were not revealed in contracts for purchasing houses?

And the end of the COVID-19 ban on evictions on July 31 can only make things worse.  .

We don’t know just how many Idahoans will end up on the street, not only too poor to afford rent, but with bad credit ratings. It’d be far worse without souped up unemployment payments and grants to some landlords. Still, we are not prepared for the slightest increase in homelessness.  

The Idaho legislature has never appropriated money for the trust fund set up in 1992 to help finance affordable housing. Even this year–while the legislature knew landlords were paying mortgages on homes where they couldn’t collect rent–the subject never came up. 

Idaho does have three housing authorities working primarily with federal money, mostly from HUD. One serves Boise City/Ada County; another, the nine counties from Owyhee County north to Camas and Valley; and a third, our 34 other counties. 

It’s likely, however, that a sudden increase in homelessness would overwhelm each agency. Although the Boise City/Ada County is accepting applications for the market rate apartments, waiting lists for the subsidized housing units are closed. 

Idaho has been remiss in planning for workers. We could have required a percent of housing to be affordable to workers making 150% of the minimum wage. But few could have predicted that house prices would rise as fast and as far as they have. 

We need to come up with ways to add housing quickly.   

Infrastructure bill popular with voters 

Independence Day 2021 was a welcome change from 2020. Once again people were able to enjoy parades and booths, traveling, relatives, and firework displays. 

Last year saw a high of 401 new Covid-19 cases reported in Idaho on July 4. On December 9 we had 2,298 new cases. In comparison, the current 80+ new cases we’re now seeing daily seem manageable.

Many Americans see similar results across the country as the reason that President Biden’s current approval rating is 50%. Gas prices may be high and border facilities overwhelmed but those who wanted vaccines, including over 720,000 Idahoans, are getting together with friends and family again.  

But it’s not today’s rating that interests those struggling to foresee results of the next midterm elections. Just what will people think of this administration in November 2022?

At this point, I’m guessing Biden will be judged by the outcome of his major proposals concerning voting rights (For the People) and infrastructure (the American Jobs Plan). Included are changes that voters in both parties support and, with Democratic majorities in both Houses, people expect the president to deliver. 

Unfortunately, there’s a difference between having a majority and being in charge. It takes 60 affirmative votes in the Senate to overcome the current adaptation of the filibuster. And the reconciliation process, which avoids the filibuster, can be used no more than three times a year. 

When Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) failed to get any Republicans to work with him on a voting rights bill, he listed the proposals he would support.  A party-line 50-50 vote June 22 blocked consideration of the bill. Further action is expected after the August recess.

Now the focus is on infrastructure, something which members of both parties often support. Biden proposed a $2.3 trillion program while Bernie Sanders’ Democrats pressed for a $6 trillion one. And a bipartisan group of 10 senators agreed to nearly $1 trillion in investment over five years; that is actually $579 billion above spending already approved by Congress. 

A June 29 article on Vox.com described the bipartisan proposal as a “very vague framework that includes funding for roads and bridges, public transit, passenger and freight rail, electric vehicle infrastructure, clean drinking water, and broadband internet.”

Deciding how to fund the bill was a hurdle. Biden, who has promised no new taxes for anyone making less than $400,000 a year, suggested raising corporate taxes to 25 or 28%, still significantly lower than the pre-2017 rate of 35%. Republicans, vowing no new [income] taxes, pushed for a mileage tax on electric vehicles and an increase in the gasoline tax. Yet, apparently both sides did scrabble together several adjustments that may (or may not) cover the cost.

So this bipartisan program, including about everything traditionally thought of as infrastructure, had a great chance of getting 60 senate votes. 

As the work to add details to the proposal began, however, Biden assured Democrats that he would veto the bipartisan bill unless the remainder of his infrastructure proposal passed through the reconciliation process.

Republicans were quick to take offense. They oppose three things in the larger Biden proposal–the higher corporate tax, efforts to mitigate global warming, and shoring up the ‘human infrastructure.’ Global warming budget items include increased research and development, generation of clean energy, and support for worker training and community colleges. Human infrastructure includes aid for care of children and the elderly and disabled. 

Republicans, however, seem to have accepted Biden’s apology for suggesting he’d veto the bipartisan plan. There’s every chance the final bill will please enough voters that both parties will get a better than expected turnout for the off-year elections. We can hope.  

Who’s most patriotic?  

What’s the proper greeting when we celebrate the Fourth of July on July 3? ‘Happy Fourth’?’ Happy Third’? Or a safe, ‘Happy Independence Day’?  

I once greeted a Canadian with “Happy Independence Day,” then apologized. (Canadians celebrate on July 1.) 

She replied, “When you live on Salt Spring Island, as I do, every day is Independence Day.”

I liked that–a quiet salute to independence each day.

Our forefather’s declaration that all “are created equal” and that governments draw their power “from the consent of the governed” demonstrated a loving trust in the goodness of all people. The signers may never have imagined the extent of the changes Americans would mold to live up to these principles, but they laid the groundwork. 

The right of everyone to vote was just the beginning. Interracial marriage become legal nationwide in 1967, and states have been required to allow women on juries since 1975. We still struggle with issues like who is allowed to serve in the military, do citizens have the rights of initiative and referendum, and what discrimination is allowed against previous felons. Still, we share a principle.   

One surprising and pleasing discovery I made this week was a report ranking Idaho first in the nation in civics education and 12th in overall patriotism (https://wallethub.com/edu/most-patriotic-states/13680). Unfortunately, Wallethub reports give little detail on measurements used.

But additional research turned up a 2018 report by the Center for American Progress on  civics education supported Idaho’s high ranking (https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-k-12/reports/2018/02/21/446857/state-civics-education/).

It wasn’t due to our daily recitation of the “Pledge of Allegiance”–schools in 44 other states required that also. Nor was it the 40% of our youth, ages 18-24, who voted–19 states did better.  

Our standing was helped by Idaho requiring a full year of civics education–only nine states do so–and our requiring students to pass the test required of new citizens–only 16 states require any civics exam.  

But it’s Idaho’s social studies standards that counted most.  Civics instruction was included in every grade. (For example, third graders were to learn the different methods we use in choosing local government officials.) The Center saw this as preparing students to benefit most from a detailed and rigorous 12th grade curriculum.

With that first place in civics, Idaho outranks 14th-place Washington and 46th-place California in Wallethubs’ list of America’s Most Patriotic States. 

First-place Montana leads the nation in “civic engagement,” based on nine rankings on rates of voting in 2020, volunteering, jury participation, and membership in civic organizations as well as civics education.  

Second place went to Alaska, which has the highest rate of military service. 

Idaho ranks 12th and 16th.   

I don’t think patriotism is measurable, but, pressured to give a ranking, I know I’d do it differently. 

I’d include voter participation in non-presidential and local elections. Loyalty to the country should include fulfilling responsibilities at all levels, not just national ones, 

And I’d skip jury duty. Jurors don’t have much choice in the matter. Is a person who’s dismissed for having been the victim of a crime, any less patriotic?

And national organizations aren’t the only ones indicating civic involvement.  Many Idahoans concentrate on working together on local projects without considering whether their organization has lobbyists in D.C.  

But no estimate of patriotism will be accurate until we find a way to measure the ability of citizens to recognize the rights of others, to accept compromise, and to demand and respect the truth.  

May your Independence Day this year include reflection and gratitude for the freedoms we share.  

Republican partisanship may force new filibuster rule

The best news Americans got last week was that the Supreme Court voted 7-2 against eliminating the Affordable Care Act. We won’t have the chaos of millions losing insurance overnight. Leading Republicans must be breathing a sigh of relief. They get the credit for fighting big government while not destroying a program Americans appreciate and rely on.

The second best news is nearly as important–Joe Manchin unveiled a three-page list of what he’d support in a voter rights’ bill.  

Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, won in 2018 with 49.6% of the vote; in 2020 Trump won West Virginia by 68.6%. With such a conservative constituency, Manchin has insisted on supporting only bipartisan bills. If his side won’t compromise, it won’t get his vote.

Some Democrats are angry with Manchin, but not the ones who count. The leaders understand that without Manchin, Democrats wouldn’t be chairing Senate committees or pushing their bills to a vote. After years of Mitch McConnell seeing that there were no votes on popular issues he didn’t want, voters may at least learn where their senators stand. 

Now, Manchin’s latest move has made it clear that McConnell and followers are more interested in partisanship than good governance.  

 Last month Democrats proposed a bill to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on Congress. Republicans demanded three changes in the bill. Democrats–knowing Manchin would block the vote if they disagreed–said okay. 

But the Republicans denounced the new bill–the one they’d asked for–with renewed vehemence. It didn’t get the 60 votes needed to get it on the agenda. 

Manchin continued in his determination to create bipartisan bills until last week. In announcing his own stand on voting rights, he indicated that he could not find Republicans to work on the issue–or to admit that they had.  

Manchin’s list doesn’t include some protections Idahoans already benefit from like absentee ballots on demand, same day registration, and voter-verified paper ballots. Nor does it attempt to limit rules on ballot collection or to provide for voter-financed elections. 

It does, however, include making registration available on-line, allowing alternate forms of voter ID, allowing mail-in ballots for those needing them, and having bipartisan commissions draw legislative districts. Some benefits new to Idahoans–early voting available 10 hours a day for 15 days, automatic voter registration through the DMV, and a public holiday on election day.  

Democrats eagerly accepted the cuts to their bill. Republicans led by McConnell, however, openly attacked the compromise attempt and vowed to defeat it, just as they had in May.

 The current filibuster rules give a minority that power. If one Senator objects to a bill, it takes 60 votes to bring it to a vote. The vote on the Jan. 6 investigation was 54-35, with six Republicans voting for considering the bill and 11 senators not voting. 

After this latest rebuff, Manchin appears willing to support altering the filibuster. One possibility would require 40 votes against considering a bill instead of 60 votes for. The way it now sits, the vote to consider a bill could be 59-0 and still lose.  

Another would add voter rights’ bills to the list of bills now exempt from a filibuster, i.e. budget bills and judicial appointments.  

And a third would require an old-fashioned filibuster where voting was delayed only as long as opponents were actively speaking against it. It gives the opponents the chance to get their message broadcast, but would hurt them if they were arguing against changes the public supported.   

Fifty votes can modify the rules.  We may see action soon.